Vox has posted a cumulative graph of CO2 emissions since 1750. And the USA is flagged as the chief culprit. The actual title of the Vox article is:

Why the US bears the most responsibility for climate change, in one chart

enter image description here

It's unclear what the methodology is in establishing this, being just a tweet. (E.g. is it just industrial emissions? Is agriculture considered? Is it [not] considering absorption effects in forests etc.?) Are there some papers that explain/detail it? (And this might take us off the narrow Skeptics path, but is it still true in a per-capita graph? For example, when one considers the current yearly [thus not historically cumulative] emissions, the top per-capita looks very different than than the top per countries as a whole. Basically, is the claim technically true but misleading in some important way? [As a side note: a recent similar question here about climate-change claims is basically along the same broad lines as this last sub-question of mine, i.e. asking if we considered all the angles, not just the claim itself.])

  • The graph doesn't claim to be per-capita, it reads "million tonnes". I don't quite see how not being to a different scale than stated (per capita, per area, per TWh energy production, ...) would be misleading? The graph can hardly be about all of those at once. -- The video as posted by Carbon Brief themselves is here.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 13:51
  • @DevSolar: I agree that the graph is not misrepresenting that aspect. But apparently we allow such questions here, i.e. whether it's misleading in some frame not considered in the claim itself. Also my question is not entirely about that angle (unlike the one I've linked to). I also want to know exactly what's included (and what isn't) in a graph like that. Presumably it's based on some publications, but those are not explicit. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 13:56
  • The video description on YT reads, "chart by Carbon Brief based on code by John Burn-Murdoch". His twitter tag @jburnmurdoch is referenced in the video. This is not meant in a leading or sarcastic way -- do you have a Twitter account? If so, you could try to reach out to Mr. Burn-Murdoch to inquire about what data he used?
    – DevSolar
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 14:00
  • Does this count all CO2 emissions? I know the IPCC does not "count" a large amount of Chinas' emissions because they are from coal mines/deposits that are burning inadvertently, not deliberately man made. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 20:05
  • What's the purpose of choosing 1750? The world was more or less reorganized following WWII, so a much more meaningful (if this can actually be meaningful) would be to produce data since 1950. Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 0:21

1 Answer 1


The US is cumulatively responsible for more CO2 emissions than any other single country.

US was responsible for 27% of 1850-2011 emissions according to the World Resources Institute.

enter image description here

The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory maintains a data set that goes back to 1751, but not for every country does it go back that far.

The CDIAC based the oldest CO2 data on fossil fuel (including peat) production as reported in the reference World Energy Production 1800-1985 (1991), which the CDIAC says has some data back to 1751 in footnotes.

  • 1
    @Fizz: That WRI link from this answer gives a 2011 per-capita graph as well, which is led by Canada followed by the USA, Russia, and Japan, the EU, Indonesia, and then China. There's also a graph putting things in relation to GDP, which isn't as easily summarized. But I thought I'd point out that different scales are available.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 14:35
  • @DevSolar: I missed the conversation regarding the title because it was posted here (instead of under the question). I've changed it to Vox's own title "bears the most responsibility". Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 16:24
  • @Fizz: Ah. I thought tagging you would be enough to send you a notification. Sorry.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 16:30
  • I'd accept this answer if you added info as to what is included in those figures. Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 1:01
  • This answer is now quoting a claim that is not made in the question. If it were edited I would upvote. Otherwise I'll downvote. Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 14:04

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